Stunt Records STUCD23062

Unriel personnel Alex Riel (drums); Jerry Bergonzi (tenor sax); Michael Brecker (tenor sax); Mike Stern (guitar); Niels Lan Doky (piano); Eddie Gomez (bass)

Rielatin’ personnel as above but replace Lan Doky with Kenny Werner (piano) and Gomez with Chris Minh Doky (bass). Recorded Sound on Sound, New York City 23-24 March 1997, 9-11 October 1999

Along with fellow Danes Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Palle Mikkelborg, drummer Alex Riel has gained an international reputation on the jazz scene and played with a host of artists including, Bill Evans, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter, John Scofield and Dizzy Gillespie. It goes without saying that he has also played with Ørsted Pedersen and Mikkerlborg – with the latter he formed the Alex Riel/Palle Mikkelborg Quintet. Now in his ninth decade (he’s 83), Riel is still active on the music scene.

This release combines two albums originally released in the late 90s: Unriel (1997) and Rielatin’ (1999). The drummer has a penchant for album titles that play on his surname – others include Riel Time and The Riel Deal. As the title suggests, these sessions took place in New York and both albums feature an impressive line-up of musicians including, tenor saxophonists Michael Brecker and Jerry Bergonzi. The former is probably the most influential tenor saxophonist after John Coltrane, but when Becker was once asked what it felt like to be the greatest tenor saxophonist in the world, he replied, ‘I don’t know; ask Jerry Bergonzi.” Bergonzi is probably best known for his three-year stint as a member of the Dave Brubeck quartet (from 1979-82), but he’s also released around forty albums as leader. He’s one of those artists who deserve a much higher profile, in my view. Mike Stern of course, made his name as a member of Miles Davis band, while bassist Eddie Gomez has been associated with the likes of Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Paul Bley and Gerry Mulligan.

Two Danish/Vietnamese musicians also appear on separate albums. Keyboardist Niels Lan Doky plays piano on Unriel and his brother Chris Minh Doky on Rielatin’ (he’s also the album’s producer). Both have played with a wide range of artists that includes John Scofield, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, David Sanborn and Joe Henderson.

The two albums are a mix of post-bop and jazz-rock fusion, with Brecker and Bergonzi both playing together on two tracks on each recording. This includes, ‘Gecko Plex,’ the opener on Unriel and a Bergonzi composition (he wrote five of the nine tunes on Unriel.). A post-bop workout driven by an Eddie Gomez four-note descending riff, it has both saxophonists displaying their chops with plenty of explosive playing, lightning arpeggios, blistering runs and a host of squeaks and honks. It’s an energetic performance, but at times, a bit too abrasive for this listener’s ears. A more satisfying performance from the two saxophonists can be found on the swinging number ‘On Again Off Again.’

‘He’s Dead Too,’ another Bergonzi composition, features more heavy sax blowing and a long Stern solo, replete with his trademark sound – a slow build-up, playing single notes before reaching up to a fever pitch with an avalanche of screaming lines and a chorus effects. But the highlight is a supremely supple solo by Gomez,

accompanied by some scat singing. Pianist Niels Lan Dorky gets a chance to stretch out on Stern’s ‘Bruze,’ with a swinging, bluesy solo, accompanied by some Keith Jarrett-like vocalisations. Riel prefers to let others take the limelight, but on songs like this, you really appreciate his great swing, steady pulse, and rich array of accents and fills.

The band’s play a cover of Coltrane’s ‘Moment Notice,’ from his 1958 album Blue Train. The original sextet recording included trombone and trumpet, but this version sounds much smoother, with guitar and saxophone playing the head in unison and both instruments soloing for long stretches. Bergonzi’s midtempo ‘Channeling’ is the longest tune, running ten minutes and based around a dark theme played on sax and guitar. It’s another chance for Gomez to solo at length, accompanied by some sensitive comping from Riel and Stern, with the latter seamlessly taking over the solo slot.

A standout tune is the ballad ‘Invisible Light,’ another Bergonzi original. It shows another side to his playing: slow, sensitive and full of feeling – it’s an affecting performance. Gomez’s short solo is equally sensitive and Reil plays with brushes.

Niels Lan Dorky composed the closing title track, a straight-ahead swinger with Bergonzi playing the song’s merry theme.

Relatin’ focuses more on straight-ahead jazz than fusion, with cover versions of tunes by Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. Bergonzi composed three of the nine tunes. The same band is in the studio, except that Eddie Gomez has been replaced by Chris Minh Doky, and Kenny Werner takes over piano duties from Niels Lan Doky. Werner had a long association with Toots Thielemans, and has also played with artists such as Charles Mingus, Michel Legrand, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz , Elvin Jones and John Scofield.

Brecker and Bergonzi play together on the first two tunes, Webster’s ‘Did You Call Her Today?’ and Coltrane’s ‘Bessie’s Blues.’ On the former they play the jaunty theme together. Fans of the tenor sax are in for a treat with this track, as the two master musicians each play extended solos and also trade fours. The band plays a greatly extended version of ‘Bessie’s Blues’ (the original lasts for less than four minutes; this version runs for almost twelve). It’s played at a brisker pace, and once again, Brecker and Bergonzi play long, powerful solos. Stern and Werner also deliver energizing performances and Riel and Minh Doky keep a steady pulse – it’s a fine band performance.

There’s also a splendid eight-minute version of Parker’s ‘Dexterity.’ Inspired by the changes to Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ it’s no wonder this tune swings and it features some tight call-and-response interplay between bass and drums. ‘In My Own “Sweets” Way’ is the only Alex Riel solo composition on both albums and is a four-minute drum solo, played as a tribute to drummers like George Wettling and Gene Krupa. The band also cover the jazz standard ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily.’ The next two numbers, ‘The Bat’ and ‘High Tops’ are both Bergonzi compositions and swinging numbers featuring plenty of Stern’s guitar. The closer, ‘Lille Empum’ written by Riel and Chris Minh Doky, is an uptempo swinger with Riel playing really loose, combining a stream of 16th notes on the ride cymbal with thundering fills, Minh Doky

solos furiously and Bergonzi tears it up on sax. Of the two albums, Unriel is the strongest, however on both records, fans of both jazz-fusion and swing will find plenty of good music and lots of sterling performances to enjoy.